The Detroit Lions are in an interesting spot at linebacker this offseason because so many players are set to become free agents. Only three linebackers are currently under contract, meaning a lot could change with this position from 2011 to 2012 depending on what happens.
The most notable free agent is Stephen Tulloch. He has said that he would love to return to the Lions, but the price has to be right. The expectation is for him to draw some interest on the open market, so it's tough to say whether the Lions will be able to re-sign him or not.
Another starter from last season who is a free agent is DeAndre Levy. However, he is restricted and was tendered an offer on Monday. He is reportedly planning to sign the tender, so he should be back as a starter outside or inside if Tulloch doesn't return.
The lone returning starter who is already under contract is Justin Durant. He signed a two-year deal last summer and will return as one of the starting outside linebackers. In 2011, he had 68 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in 13 games for the Lions.
The other two linebackers under contract are Doug Hogue and Slade Norris. Hogue was a fifth-round pick in last year's draft and appeared in 13 games for the Lions, mostly on special teams. Norris spent the final month and a half of the season on the Lions practice squad.
In addition to Tulloch and Levy, the Lions also have Bobby Carpenter, Ashlee Palmer and Isaiah Ekejiuba set to become free agents. Carpenter was a solid backup who was called upon to start in three games last season for the Lions. Palmer is actually a restricted free agent, and although he wasn't tendered, he may still be re-signed. Finally, Ekejiuba missed most of last season after experiencing a shoulder injury. He is a special teams ace, but it's not clear what the Lions' plans are with him.
Need going forward?
How much of a need exists at this position really depends on what happens with Tulloch. If he re-signs, the only need the Lions will have is for some added depth, and they might be able to fill that simply by re-signing guys like Carpenter, Palmer and Ekejiuba. If Tulloch signs with another team, then linebacker will become a major need for the Lions and you can expect there to be a lot of speculation about them using the 23rd overall pick on his replacement or Levy's replacement if he moves inside to replace Tulloch.